Signs of the Times

Catholics Rank Abortion Below War, Economy

Abortion was named as a very important priority by 49 percent of Catholics who expect to vote for President George W. Bush, coming behind Iraq, terrorism, moral values and the economy, each of which was named by at least 64 percent in a recent Pew poll. The poll, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, asked voters nationwide to list their highest priorities this election year. Participants typically named more than one topic, and their accumulated responses were presented according to what percentage of people named them.

The data were then divided according to whether the participants said they expect to vote for Bush, for Bush’s Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, or had not yet decided.


Catholics who expect to vote for Kerry named health care, the economy, Iraq, the federal budget deficit, education and terrorism as their highest priorities. At least 74 percent of Catholic supporters of Kerry named each of those. Abortion was named as a priority for probable Kerry-voting Catholics 40 percent of the time.

Catholic voters who have not yet made up their minds about the presidential race gave top priority to health care, followed by the economy, terrorism, Iraq and the federal budget deficit. All those topics were named by at least 66 percent of Catholics who are still deciding. Among those swing voters, abortion was named as a very important priority by 45 percent.

Mary Bendyna, a Sister of Mercy who is executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., noted that the Pew study affirms other polls showing the economy is still the number one priority for most voters.

72 Percent of Catholics Consider Communion Sanctions Improper

Seventy-two percent of U.S. Catholics believe it is improper for church leaders to deny Communion to Catholic politicians whose views on abortion and other life issues go against church teachings, according to a poll conducted in early August by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Pew’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. Twenty-three percent said such actions were proper.

The poll, released on Aug. 24, found that 64 percent of the general public thought it improper for church leaders to deny Communion. The largest segment to agree that such action was proper was 39 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans. Forty-seven percent of this group said it was improper and 14 percent said they did not know.

The poll also asked people their attitudes toward gay marriage and how important that topic and other issues are in their voting priorities. Of the whole group, 34 percent said the issue of gay marriage is very important to them in voting decisions, compared to 34 percent who said it is not very important and 30 percent who said it is not important at all. Among Catholics, 22 percent said it is very important, compared to 41 percent who answered not very important and 34 percent who said it is not at all important to them. The group to whom the issue is most important, according to the survey, is made up of evangelical Protestants who are regular churchgoers, 67 percent of whom described gay marriage as very important to their vote.

The poll also asked people’s opinions about embryonic stem-cell research. A narrow majority, 52 percent, said it is more important to conduct stem-cell research than it is to stop such research in the interest of not destroying the embryos. Fifty-five percent of Catholics said research is more important, compared to 31 percent who said it’s more important not to destroy embryos.

A survey commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ pro-life office reported that U.S. adults strongly prefer federal funding of stem-cell research that does not destroy human embryos. When asked about legislation before Congress that would allow federal funding for stem-cell research that destroys human embryos, respondents were closely divided, with 46.9 percent saying they opposed such funding and 43.3 percent expressing approval. But when respondents were presented with an alternative between funding research that destroys human embryos and research that uses adult stem cells, which does not require destruction of embryos, only 23 percent supported embryonic research and 61.4 percent approved using adult stem cells.

Detroit Abuse Cases Could Be Resolved Soon

Auxiliary Bishop Walter A. Hurley of Detroit, Mich., said he hopes sexual misconduct cases involving 26 priests of the archdiocese can be resolved by the end of 2004.

Detroit’s archdiocesan tribunal had already started three canonical trials and a fourth was to begin soon, Bishop Hurley said at a media briefing on Aug. 11. Of 26 cases against Detroit priests who have had their ministry restricted because of credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, 13 have been returned so far from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. More are expected soon, Bishop Hurley said.

In one case, the congregation declared that the Rev. Brian Bjorklund had committed no crime under church law, because at the time he allegedly had sexual relations with a teenage male the youth was over 16, the maximum age then defined in the church’s law against clergy engaging in sexual conduct with minors. Subsequently, church law was changed to cover sexual misconduct with anyone under 18. Father Bjorklund, a former U.S. Navy chaplain currently residing in California, has not been given a new assignment.

In another case, the congregation issued a decree removing Joseph Sito from the clerical state, a step that has the same effect as if Sito had voluntarily sought laicization. His case made headlines in spring 2002 when he was accused of fondling a teenage boy while already under restrictions stemming from an earlier incident.

A third case became moot when the priest died over the summer.

In four of the remaining 10 cases returned by the Vatican, canonical trials were authorized. The Vatican authorized Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit, with the assistance of two outside assessors, to decide the other six cases by summary administrative decision.

If a priest is found innocent of any violation of church law, he would be free to return to his former assignment or to be assigned elsewhere by the cardinal. If he is found guilty, he will be removed permanently from ministry and ordinarily is to be laicized. Old age or bad health are possible grounds for only removing the man from ministry without laicizing him. Even if not found guilty, a priest could be suspended from or restricted in ministry for the good of the church, said Bishop Hurley.

Census Bureau Counts More Poor and Uninsured

The number of people below the U.S. poverty line increased by 1.3 million in 2003. More than 60 percent of the increase was among children under 18 years of age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage. In terms of percentage, the number of poor increased by 0.4 percent to 12.5 percent of the U.S. population. The Census Bureau also reported a 1.4 million rise in the number of people lacking health insurance and said household income was stagnant, except for Hispanic households, which saw their income drop by 2.6 percent.

African Bishops Call for Foreign Debt Cancellation

Bishops from West Africa’s English-speaking countries called for outright cancellation of international debts, which they said have been repaid several times. Speaking of previous centuries’ slave trade, which sent millions of Africans away from the continent, the bishops said international debt has turned out to be a new form of enslavement for the people. Bishops from the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africarepresenting Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leonemet in Ho, Ghana, on Aug. 21-30 to discuss good governance in Africa. The bishops welcomed the peace and stability that has returned to the region but criticized continued corruption by government leaders.

The bishops said the economic distress of West African countries is ever worsened by the huge and crushing burden of foreign debts from which the populace hardly benefited. Such debt needs to be canceled for the sake of justice and fairness, the bishops said in a statement issued at the end of their meeting. They said present and future generations were enslaved by debt repayments; governments often are forced to take money from services such as education to make payments on just the interest of their foreign debts.

It remains a paradox that the staggering sums of money, stashed away by some of our corrupt and unscrupulous leaders in foreign banks, are more than enough to pay off the debts their respective countries owe foreign creditors, they said. They urged government officials to stop stealing and [to] make appropriate restitution for their ill-gotten gains, lest they attract the wrath of God.

The bishops pledged to intensify people’s education so that they would be politically informed in order to demand from our governments and public officers transparency and accountability, while at the same time forming their consciences to appreciate that good citizenship is a religious duty.

Aid Programs in Indonesia Corrupt, Says Bishop

The refugee problem in Indonesia’s Molucca Islands will continue unless corruption plaguing refugee aid programs is controlled, said the Catholic bishop whose diocese serves the area. Bishop Petrus Mandagi of Ambon told reporters on Aug. 20 that the problem remains, because money destined for resettlement of refugees has been diverted before it reached them. The bishop, who also heads the Indonesian bishops’ justice and peace commission, said that no matter how large the fund for the refugee problem is, without honesty it is impossible to address the problem.

Sudan’s Bishops Call for More Action, Less Talk

The world must stop talking about the tragedy unfolding in western Sudan’s Darfur region; it must act now to prevent more lives from being lost, said the Sudanese Catholic bishops. We ask all concerned authorities to stop politicking. What is at stake are the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, particularly the children, the women and the elderly, they said in a statement dated Aug. 24. The bishops, who met in Jinja, Uganda, said that some 35,000 people have died in the last year and a half and another two million people have been internally displaced. They said more people will die in the next few days, because urgently needed relief supplies have been prevented from reaching their destinations. There is no room for further statements, discussions or deliberation. This is a time for action to save innocent people, the statement said.

U.N. refugee officials in Chad said the agency is bracing for the arrival of about 100,000 refugees from western Sudan as the situation there deteriorates. The officials said they expect a crush of refugees to cross the border before the end of 2004, joining the nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees already in eastern Chad.

Materials Available for Voter Education

Three religious organizations have produced nonpartisan materials to educate voters about political responsibility.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a bulletin insert that summarizes the bishops’ teachings on the role of Catholics in the public arena, drawn from their document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. It can be ordered by phone at (800) 235-8722, or online at

Catholic Relief Services is offering a 12-week program to guide college students through political issues addressed in Faithful Citizenship. Materials can be printed from the Web site, at Information also is available by calling (410) 951-7430.

The Interfaith Alliance, a nonpartisan, grass-roots public advocacy organization of more than 75 faith traditions, has produced an election-year program, called One Nation, Many Faiths: Vote 2004, about faith, religious liberty and pluralism. Information can be found online at or by calling (202) 639-6370.

News Briefs

Pope John Paul II condemned a wave of terrorist actions in Iraq, Russia and Israel, saying recourse to violence was unworthy of any cause. On Sept. 1 the pope said he was pained at the recent bombings in Russia and Israel, which left many defenseless and innocent victims.

At least 556 U.S. seminarians have signed a letter to the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference affirming their support for mandatory celibacy in the Catholic priesthood of the Latin rite. Gary J. Kasel of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis and Franz S. Klein of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., initiated the signature project last fall.

Gluten-Free Living, a magazine devoted to people with celiac disease, has endorsed a low-gluten Communion host made by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo., as perfectly safe for celiac sufferers.

The Diocese of Fargo, N.D., announced on Aug. 21 that it would close 33 parishes by the year 2010.

Deal W. Hudson, publisher and editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis, announced his resignation on Aug. 18 as a Catholic outreach adviser to President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. The next day, the Web site of the National Catholic Reporter posted a lengthy profile on Hudson’s life that included details of his 1994 resignation as a philosophy professor at Fordham University after an 18-year-old student accused him of sexual misconduct.

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